Demand for elderly care facilities on the rise

Singapore Press Holdings (SPH) is entering the healthcare sector with a $164 million purchase of nursing home operator Orange Valley Healthcare.
Singapore Press Holdings (SPH) is entering the healthcare sector with a $164 million purchase of nursing home operator Orange Valley Healthcare. PHOTO: ORANGE VALLEY HEALTHCARE PTE LTD

Singapore Press Holdings' (SPH) acquisition of private nursing home provider Orange Valley Healthcare taps into the long-term trends of rising healthcare needs and an ageing population, industry watchers said.

But amid these opportunities, the sector is grappling with many challenges, including a shortage of beds and maintaining care standards with limited manpower.

To meet rising demand, the number of nursing home beds in Singapore has increased from 9,000 in 2011 to more than 12,000. Most - about 60 to 70 per cent - are in facilities run by voluntary welfare organisations.

Other private nursing home providers include Econ Healthcare Group and Pacific Healthcare. The Health Ministry aims to have 17,000 beds in Singapore by 2020.

"There will be strong demand for aged and elderly care facilities and services. The Government is aiming for people to age in place and make use of home care rather than building more beds, but there's room in the market for a range of options for people with different abilities to pay," said Dr Loke Wai Chiong, healthcare sector leader at Deloitte South-east Asia.

"Orange Valley is a major private- sector player and is in a good position to take advantage of these trends."

SPH's move comes as the number of those aged above 65 here is set to double by 2030 to 900,000. This means one in four Singaporeans will be elderly, spelling hefty demand for aged care services in the next decade.

But there is still a pressing shortage, with an average wait of several months to be placed in a home.

A report out last year found that despite a 30 per cent jump in capacity since 2010, Singapore still had fewer nursing home beds per 1,000 people aged 65 and above in 2015 - 26.1 beds - than in 2000 when it was 27.9 beds.

The study, commissioned by the Lien Foundation and Khoo Chwee Neo Foundation, also found that in countries such as the United States, Australia and Finland, about 5 per cent of the elderly population live in some form of residential aged care facility.

Going by this, about 50,000 seniors here will need such facilities by 2030. But there are only about 12,000 nursing home beds now.

Dr Loke said Orange Valley is among the operators looking to put greater emphasis on patient rehabilitation instead of just residential care.

There are also prospects for regional expansion, said Orange Valley chief executive officer Chan Kay Fei. "The ageing issue is not just affecting Singapore but also countries across the region... It's an Asian problem, so whatever good model of care we can develop for Singapore will be relevant for the region."

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on April 26, 2017, with the headline 'Demand for elderly care facilities on the rise'. Print Edition | Subscribe